Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pomp and Circumstances You Didn't See Coming (And what is "pomp"?)

It's that time of year again where schools hold their commencement ceremonies and little people run around in silky gowns and huge smiles. Many moons ago in the days of yore, I was celebrating my graduation from college. A time filled with hopes and dreams. A time filled with well-wishes and an uncomfortable cap. There were cards saying "congrats to the grad!" and there were dinners for celebrating. But as I sat in that huge auditorium, chewing on my tassel out of pure boredom, I had no idea that I was just receiving a piece of paper. Four years of exams, projects, internships, deadlines and a thesis (yes, for a Bachelors! I didn't think it was fair either)... was just the beginning of the education I was about to receive.

My parents were famous for always telling me "stop acting like a know-it-all because you truly don't young lady." Well, I was certainly hellbent (can I say that?) on making sure they knew I did know it all. In reality, I knew so little. When my parents were 20 they were married with a child. By the time they were 30 they were still married, holding down jobs and feeding 3 kids. They worked for every single penny they had. I don't know how they did it since there wasn't a lot of money in being a nurse and a police officer but we never went without (I'm almost 30, single, and my cats go without unless they remind me). Neither of them went to college. And here I was sitting at the age of 22 with a cap, gown and piece of paper telling me I was ready for the big world. That piece of paper should have come with a sticky note that read in bold: "JUST KIDDING." 

Today I went to a party celebrating the college graduation of a beautiful girl. I adopted her as my own "little sister" when she was in 8th grade and have been there as her "big sister" ever since. I know many of you are wondering why someone would look to me for guidance, boy advice and mentoring and I honestly can't give you an answer (and I judge you for wondering). But she did and I was honored to take on the role. At her party was a table filled with presents and cards. She continuously heard "Congrats to the grad!!" and the follow up question by every single person who walked up to her was: "So what are you going to do now?!?"

If you had asked me that at the age of 22 I would have said: "Work in politics. Run for office. Have 2 children. Marry a gorgeous man. Be a size 6. Save the pandas. Write a book. Solve world hunger." The reality of the situation is I have done absolutely NONE of those things since graduation. And I don't plan to either (I will NEVER be a size 6, let's be rational here kids). And the pressure of having to answer that question right after taking off your cap and gown is overwhelming. But she gracefully answered the question every time with her aspirations for the future. 

Sitting on that table of Hallmark cards was a handwritten letter to the graduate. The letter's author stated how proud she was of the graduate and how there are so many doors open to her now. But it also told her that life is now just beginning. Those 4 years spent inside the confines of a college campus merely held her hand as she left the proverbial nest. Now the real test of knowledge and wisdom came into play. The fear that comes from turning on the light switch and the light not coming on... Did I manually turn off the lamp or did the electric company win this month? The sound your voice makes when you ask the check-out boy "how do you sleep at night??" when he tells you the total of your groceries. The happy dance you do when you save 40 cents a gallon with your fuel points. The satisfaction of handing in your rent check knowing it won't bounce because you just raced to the bank, made a last minute deposit, flirted with the teller to make sure it processed that business day and raced back to hand the check in before it was deemed late. And the crack in your voice when your parents ask you "How are you doing?" and you want to tell them everything is fine and you're doing amazing on your own but really you would give anything for a piece of your mom's lasagna and have your flat tire fixed by your Dad. 

They didn't teach me how to do my taxes before they handed me that degree. They didn't teach me that showers cost money and therefore dry shampoo will become your best friend. They didn't teach me that when I have a problem I can't just walk into the Dean's office and make everything okay with a change in a schedule or an excuse note. They gave me books but I didn't learn. I didn't learn what it meant to be an adult. I learned what it meant to be "free" from my parents but I still didn't know that you should really separate your colored wash from the white wash (sorry mom). 

So somewhere on that table full of $3.99 Hallmark cards of congratulations, there was a letter of truth. A letter that I am proud to say I wrote to the graduate to let her know that the world is a really scary place. It's a really hard place. It's a trying, testing, and stubborn piece of work. But every electric bill you might miss or every microwave dinner you eat wishing it was home-cooked goodness is one "class" closer to graduating... A graduation that doesn't require a piece of paper but full knowledge in: Life. The hardest class you could ever sign up for but the most rewarding one you can ever pass. And hopefully you'll make the Dean's List. 

Really try to make it on there. It's great for your credit score. Which, again, the "Powers That Be" never tell you is more important than your silly GPA. 

1 comment:

William O'Hare said...

Once again you have taken a serious part of life, added a little sarcasm and humor and a big dose of reality, stirred it up and delivered a masterpiece.